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Listed Building
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Thanet (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
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Rollercoaster. 1919-1920, restored after fires in 1949 and 1957. As of 2010, awaiting restoration following a further fire in 2008.

Reasons for Designation

The Scenic Railway at Dreamland, Margate, built in 1920 by JH Iles for his new American-style amusement park is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * Rarity: it is the oldest surviving roller coaster in Britain and is of international importance as the second oldest in Europe and amongst the five oldest in the world of this prominent C20 entertainment structure; * Design: Scenic railways are amongst the earlier types of roller coaster design and it is an internationally important surviving example of this technology; * Townscape value: as an important and evocative aspect of the seaside heritage of Margate, one of the earliest and foremost English seaside resorts, and Dreamland, its principal amusement park ; * Group value: it groups with Dreamland's other listed buildings the Grade II* cinema and Grade II menagerie.


Dreamland amusement park was opened in 1920 by the promoter John Henry Iles (1871-1951). It was constructed on the site of the pleasure grounds known as 'The Hall by the Sea' that had been developed on Margate's seafront from 1867, notably by the circus proprietor 'Lord' George Sanger (1825?-1911). Iles marketed roller coasters in Britain and Europe for the American pioneer of roller coaster development, La Marcus Adna Thompson (1848-1919). He thus named the attraction to reflect the glamour of Coney Island, New York, the home of the world's leading amusement parks and fairground rides, which between 1904 and 1911 included a park named Dreamland. The Scenic Railway opened on 3 July 1920, two months after the park, and was advertised as being the largest roller coaster in Europe. In its first full season in 1921, nearly one million people took the ride. Dreamland was closed during World War II and the Scenic Railway escaped major damage from the war, but at least half the structure was destroyed by a fire in 1949. The structure was rebuilt with timber intended for the repair of Lowestoft pier, but it was again damaged by fire in 1957. The later twentieth century saw declining attendance and changed ownership of the park, and the Scenic Railway last ran in 2006. The railway was the backdrop for the burning of an Anthony Gormley sculpture The Waste Man in 2006, used in the television film The Margate Exodus. In 2008 a major fire, believed to have been caused by arson, destroyed about a quarter of the timber superstructure, including much of the two hill-lift inclines and also the workshop containing the cars.

Scenic Railways were a technological advance from the earlier Switchblade type of roller coaster. Switchblades were patented in 1884 and operated by a lift at the end of each run of linear track to complete the return journey. Scenic Railways were normally on a looped track with the cars inclined by electrically powered endless cables that ran beneath the cars. Another innovation was the introduction of 'side-friction' guide wheels which projected from the undercarriage of the cars to make contact with wooden boards at the side of the track. This development allowed for steeper inclines and tighter, faster curves providing a more exciting ride, but it still required a brakeman to slow cars down on steep descents. At Margate the brakeman stood on a platform between the first and second cars of the three-car train which together carried a maximum of 28 passengers. The first Scenic Railway in the USA appeared in 1887 in Atlantic City and this type of ride was often provided with scenic dioramas along the track, but not always, as was the case at Dreamland, although at one time there was a tunnel. Thirty one Scenic Railways were built in Britain between the first example (the Velvet Coaster at Blackpool in 1907) and the last, in 1938. Dreamland's Scenic Railway is the oldest of only two remaining in Britain, the other, at Great Yarmouth, dates from 1932 and is currently under consideration for listing. It is the fourth or fifth (depending on the date in 1920 when The Jack Rabbit, Rochester, New York opened) oldest roller coaster in the world in its original location (and the third or fourth oldest scenic railway) and the second oldest in Europe after the Rutschebanen of 1914 in the Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen.


Orientated north-west to south-east, and located just to the south of the cinema, the Scenic Railway comprises a timber lattice structure providing support for an undulating, elongated tight double loop of iron tracks which have a total length of approximately 1.2 km. The superstructure comprises non-standard upright timbers approximately 15cm square braced by similarly non-standard bracing struts. The metal rails are laid on a timber bed with side panels for the 'side-friction' mechanism that helps keep the cars on the rails. In the centre of the track at its north end is the engine house with the electrically-operated machinery and pulleys operating the continuous steel rope used to pull the cars up the inclines. As of 2010 a section of the superstructure towards the south-east end of the railway is missing following serious damage in a fire in 2008 which also destroyed the train shed in the centre of the track where the cars were previously stored.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Barker, N, Margate's Seaside Heritage, (2007)
Brodie, A, Winter, G, England’s Seaside Resorts, (2007)
Evans, N, Dreamland Remembered, (2005)
Roller Coaster Mayhem, accessed from
Brodie, Allan, Scenic Railway at Dreamland, Margate - Background Research , 2010,


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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